The Great Sweepstakes of 1877 by Mark Shrager details the events surrounding an iconic post-Civil War horse race so polarizing that the members of the United States Senate postponed all business for the day so that they might attend.
The race was far more than a mere sporting event. While the press politely described it as an “East” vs. “West” competition, most, still recovering from the depredations of the Civil War and the Reconstruction that followed, recognized it as a major North vs. South encounter, pitting New York’s powerful thoroughbred Tom Ochiltree and New Jersey’s Parole, representing the victorious Union side, against the already legendary “Kentucky crack” Ten Broeck, representing a former slave state and its Southern values. In a sense, then, the race reflected, in microcosm, the still seething America during one of the nation’s most difficult and divisive periods.
It was a race that brought together some of the age’s most fascinating personalities. Parole’s owner, tobacco magnate Pierre Lorillard, was among the wealthiest and most ostentatiously public entrepreneurs of what economist Thorstein Veblen described as The Era of Conspicuous Consumption; Pierre’s younger brother and Tom Ochiltree’s owner George, Pierre’s most dedicated competitor, was so popular at the peak of his short career – he died at age 42 – that one publication suggested he could have been President, had he desired the office. Ten Broeck’s owner, Frank Harper, was the Lorillards’ polar opposite, a teetotaling, plain-living backroads horseman devoted entirely to his magnificent thoroughbreds.